Jim Palmer, the 45-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher, will face some of amateur baseball's best players today in his first look at hitters since beginning workouts in an attempt at an unprecedented comeback.

Palmer will throw to batters at the University of Miami 25 years his junior who would like nothing more than to say they put one over the fence against a Hall of Famer. Two of the more formidable Miami hitters waiting to take their shots are third baseman George Fabregas and first baseman-catcher Charles Johnson.

Fabregas tied for the team lead in hitting last season at .365 and drove in 64 runs in 64 games. A Cleveland Indians draft choice out of high school, he led the U.S. team in batting in last summer's Goodwill Games.

Johnson, a freshman all-American last season, hit .324 with 11 home runs and a school-record nine triples. He was a first-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos out of high school, but rejected a lucrative offer to attend Miami.

Palmer, who ended his 19-year major league career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1984, is being coached by Lazaro "Laser" Collazo, an assistant pitching coach with the powerful Miami baseball team.

"We had a long-range goal 3 1/2 weeks ago and he's two weeks ahead of his goal," Collazo said. "The first time he started throwing, I saw he still had a live arm. His arm keeps getting stronger and stronger. By the seventh workout, he was throwing 85, 86 miles an hour." . . .

Free agent Brian Holton, who won two games for the Orioles last year, announced he had signed a one-year contract with the San Diego Padres. "They want me to be the middleman there," said Holton, who performed that duty for the Los Angeles Dodgers before coming to Baltimore.

The Orioles and reliever Kevin Hickey agreed to terms on a one-year contract. Hickey, 34, was 1-3 with Baltimore last season, with a 5.13 earned-run average and one save. . . .

Left-hander Dennis Rasmussen has returned to the San Diego Padres, agreeing to a one-year, $805,000 contract minutes before the midnight Tuesday deadline. Last month, Rasmussen rejected San Diego's salary arbitration offer, and he had until Jan. 8 to re-sign. . . .

Two free agents let the deadline pass: right-hander Dave Schmidt of Montreal and infielder-outfielder Denny Walling of St. Louis.